A New Chapter: My Foray Into the World of Venture Capital
I have spent 25 years of my life in enterprise technology, including an incredible 12+ year journey at Appirio and Wipro that officially ended last month. When I sat back to think about what I wanted to do next, all I knew was that I wanted something new. Something different. Something that wasn’t enterprise technology. Something outside Silicon Valley.
Last summer my wife Lori and I opened up a bar and restaurant in rural Green Lake, Wisconsin. I wrote a little about that experience here, but needless to say I learned A LOT! I also got pretty into tequila (no, not in that way), starting a direct-to-consumer premium tequila site called SipTequila, along with our own private label, Compoveda. Both businesses are still going strong, and they were very effective in getting me outside my comfort zone.
They also helped shine a light on what it is that I WAS looking for in my next chapter - not just what I was looking to get away from. It turns out I kind of missed the tech scene. And surprisingly I missed the energy and pace of Silicon Valley. But what I most wanted was to keep learning. Henry Ford is reported to have said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.” My knees might not be what they used to but damn if I was going to be old.
This, like many others before me, led me down a path to venture capital. More specifically to my current role as a Venture Partner at GGV Capital in San Francisco and Shanghai.
While building Appirio we raised north of $120M in capital over multiple rounds and years. During that time I had the opportunity to interface with more than 100 firms. I also got to experience 25 rejections during our first round of funding (talk about a learning experience). Those rejections got us where we needed to be, which was with a world-class team of investors -- Salesforce, Sequoia, GGV, General Atlantic and Fidelity -- which created what I call our “full contact board.”
I learned so much from each of these firms, and the partners who helped guide us. Now I get to be on the other side of the table, helping coach and guide other entrepreneurs in their quest to create a meaningful and successful business.
When people ask why I went to GGV vs. another firm, I can boil it down to 3 P’s: People, Perspective and Pace.
People - Authentic & Collaborative: Venture is generally speaking more of an individual sport vs. a team sport, and that usually leads to a lot of big personalities. With 6 partners across the US and China supported by nearly 90 talented professionals across multiple offices, GGV has and continues to be one of the most collaborative, humble and TEAM oriented shops I’ve experienced in the venture space. I appreciated and benefited from those characteristics in the 9+ years that I was lucky enough to serve as a CEO in their portfolio, and I see it first-hand now in how the partners and team interact during investment committee meetings, weekly meetings, events, team offsites (a rarity in venture I’m told) and just day-to-day. They are supportive, genuine and transparent -- and as a life-long proponent of corporate culture, these are the kind of leaders and co-workers who I want to work with.
Perspective - China, India, Global: While Appirio was global, we never had a China play and that region has always fascinated me. China is such a unique market when it comes to scale, trade power, trade relations and IP, and in my next career chapter, I knew I wanted to better understand the workings and entrepreneurial landscape of this country. In the short time I have been working with GGV’s China team, I have been blown away by the innovation, scale, speed, true mobile first mindset, work ethic, and public / private collaboration that happens across B2B, B2C and B2B2C markets there. A few of my favorite Chinese companies so far include NIU, Keep and EHang, but there are so many more. I believe the learnings from this experience can also apply to the constantly evolving landscape in India - a country I’m personally passionate about based on all it has done for me, and Appirio, over the last decade.
Pace - Fast, Fun & Balanced: As any founder or entrepreneur knows, it’s important to pace yourself. Building something meaningful requires a marathon, not a sprint, mentality. You have to constantly push forward, creating urgency for yourself and your team to reach those important milestones, all while keeping in mind the end goal (and reserving enough energy and enthusiasm to make it there.) Some firms in the venture space are wired only for short term results. GGV’s “go-long” philosophy (which is also the name Glenn Solomon’s blog) and their recognition that in the operating world not everything is always up and to the right is refreshing in this space. GGV demands a lot of its portfolio companies but they also think big. I have been pleasantly surprised by how many companies GGV looks at in a year and the diversity of them (stage, geography, sector). I also admire the agility of their decision making process, which is fast-paced but also thoughtful and pragmatic. It’s been fun to get into this flow and has already given me some incredible market insights.
When I’m coaching entrepreneurs on how to scale a businesses (or advance their careers), I talk a lot about the different chapters we have in our lives. This is a new chapter for me, and while I am always on the hunt for the ‘next big thing’ to start, build or operate, I feel pretty fortunate about where I am today. The awesome people I am surrounded by in this new role, the global perspective I am gaining through my work in China and entrepreneurs across the world, all while keeping up a pace that is both exciting and balanced. Onward!